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Skilled Worker Visa Guide 2021

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In most cases, EU and non-EEA nationals coming to the UK for work have to apply to the Home Office for a visa. The primary route for workers is the Skilled Worker visa, which is open to applicants who meet the specific visa requirements and attain the required number of points.

The following guide looks at the requirements under the new Skilled Worker visa route, whether you are an employer looking to hire a skilled worker from overseas or are an individual applying for a sponsorship visa, it will be important to understand the Skilled Worker visa eligibility and application requirements to avoid issues or delays with the Home Office application.


What is the UK’s Skilled Worker Visa?

The Skilled Worker visa allows employers to recruit non-UK resident workers who have a job offer for an eligible skilled role from a licensed sponsor.

The Skilled Worker visa replaced the Tier 2 (General) visa from 1 December 2020.

Healthcare professionals looking to work in the UK health or adult social care sector should consider their eligibility for the Health and Care Worker visa over the skilled worker visa as it offers number of benefits to visa holders. The application fee is lower and there is no requirement to pay the Immigration Health Surcharge.


How long does a skilled worker visa last?

The skilled worker visa is usually granted for up to 5 years. At this point, the visa holder would need to apply to extend the visa or on completing the 5 year residency requirement, they may become eligible to apply for UK indefinite leave the remain.

There is no limit on the number of times you can extend the skilled worker visa, provided you continue to meet the visa requirements.

If the visa holder changes sponsor or jobs, they will need to apply for a new period of leave.


Skilled Worker Visa requirements

Points attainment

The rules and requirements for the Skilled Worker visa route are set out in a new Appendix Skilled Worker. Under this route, applicants will need to accrue a total of 70 points to be eligible for a visa, including EEA nationals recruited from outside the UK after 1 January 2021 and who are not eligible for status under the EU Settlement Scheme.

The applicable 70 points threshold for a Skilled Worker visa is made up of 50 points for mandatory or ‘non-tradeable’ criteria (ie; the job offer, speaking English and the requisite skill level for the job on offer), and 20 points for what’s classed as ‘tradeable’ criteria.

Skilled worker requirement  Points  Mandatory or tradeable?
A genuine job offer from a licensed sponsor 20 points Mandatory
Speak English to the required standard 10 points Mandatory
Job offer is at a skill level of RQF3 or above 20 points Mandatory
Salary of £20,480 to £23,039 or at least 80% of the going rate for the profession (whichever is higher) 0 points Tradeable
Salary of £23,040 to £25,599 or at least 90% of the going rate for the profession (whichever is higher) 10 points Tradeable
Salary of £25,600 or above or at least the going rate for the profession (whichever is higher) 20 points Tradeable
Job in a shortage occupation as designated by the Migration Advisory Committee 20 points Tradeable
Education qualification: PhD in a subject relevant to the job 10 points Tradeable
Education qualification: PhD in a STEM subject relevant to the job 20 points Tradeable


Eligible role 

To determine if the job is eligible for the Skilled Worker route, the sponsor should identify the relevant SOC code for the role. This is usually done using the ONS occupation coding tool. The job description on the list should match the position being filled. Once the code has been identified, this will need to be cross-referenced with the listof eligible jobs to check that it is included and is eligible under the Skilled Worker route.

The Home Office can refuse the visa application is the incorrect SOC code is used.


Skills requirement 

Roles that fall below the required skill level of below RQF3, or pay below the relevant minimum threshold, will not be eligible for the skilled visa route. Although alternative immigration routes may be considered, there is no general work permit or immigration routes for ‘low skilled’ workers or occupations.


Salary requirement 

The Skilled Worker visa general minimum salary threshold is £25,600 per year, unless the ‘going rate’ for the particular role is higher. Every occupational code is assigned a going rate, which can be viewed on the .gov website.

In some cases, where the job on offer will pay less than the general salary threshold or specific salary requirement for that role – but no less than £20,480 – the applicant may still be eligible to apply for a Skilled Worker visa by trading specific characteristics against a lower salary to attain the required number of points.

Provided their salary is at least £20,480 per year, the applicant can rely on a salary of 70% – 90% of the relevant going rate for the job, provided one of the following applies: where an applicant has a job offer in a specific shortage occupation; or they have a postdoctoral position in science or higher education; or they have a science, technology, engineering or maths (STEM) PhD level qualification relevant to the job (if they have a relevant PhD level qualification in any other subject the salary must be at least £23,040); or they are a ‘new entrant’ to the UK labour market.

A new entrant is someone who is under 26 on the date they make their application and is applying for a maximum period of 3 years’ leave as a skilled worker, those sponsored in postdoctoral research positions, those in professional training or studying for professional qualifications, registration or chartered status or a recent graduate, or in professional training.

The salary requirement for new entrants is 30% lower than the rate for experienced workers in any occupation, even though the minimum of £20,480 must still be met. There are also different minimum salary rules for workers in certain health or education occupations.


English language requirement 

The required level of English is a minimum level B1 on the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages scale for reading, writing, speaking and understanding English.

Most Skilled Worker visa applicants will need to prove they meet the English language requirement, unless they have already done so as part of a previous UK immigration application or if they are a national of one of a number of exempt countries.

Unless exempt, language ability must be evidenced by either having a GCSE, A level, Scottish National Qualification level 4 or 5, Scottish Higher or Advanced Higher in English; having a degree-level academic qualification that was taught in English; or passing an approved Secure English Language Test (SELT).
Applicants are exempt from the English language requirement if they are from:

  • Antigua and Barbuda
  • Australia
  • the Bahamas
  • Barbados
  • Belize
  • Canada
  • Dominica
  • Grenada
  • Guyana
  • Jamaica
  • Malta
  • New Zealand
  • St Kitts and Nevis
  • St Lucia
  • St Vincent and the Grenadines
  • Trinidad and Tobago
  • USA


Certificate of Sponsorship assigned 

Before the worker can submit their visa application, their UK sponsor must first issue them a valid Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) to confirm that the individual and role meet the sponsorship eligibility requirements.

The CoS is a reference number that the Skilled Worker visa applicant will need to provide with their Home Office application. Only licenced sponsors can issue a CoS.

There are now two types of Certificate of Sponsorship: the defined Certificate of Sponsorship and the undefined Certificate of Sponsorship. These replace the old restricted and unrestricted CoS, which were applicable prior to 1 December 2020.

  • Undefined CoS are for either:
    • workers already in the UK with valid leave who are applying to switch into the skilled worker category from another immigration route, or
    • those applying under one of the other visa routes from within the UK or overseas.
  • Defined CoS are for out of country skilled worker visa applications, (not ICT applications).

Sponsors will need to apply for a defined CoS. This is a specific application to the Home Office, and details of the specific job and salary will need to be provided.

For undefined CoS, sponsors will either be asked to submit a request for a yearly allocation in advance of April, or they will be allocated a quantity automatically. It is also possible to apply for additional COS during the year.


Maintenance requirement

The applicant must show they meet the financial requirement, and have sufficient funds to support themselves as they will not have access to public funds such as benefits.

The rules state applicants must have at least £1,270 in their bank account when applying. This amount must have been available for at least 28 consecutive days, with day 28 being within 31 days of making the visa application. The applicant will need to provide evidence of their savings, unless they have been in the UK for 12 months with lawful status, or if their sponsor agrees to meet their costs of up to £1,270 during their first month in the UK.

The sponsor should confirm on the Certificate of Sponsorship that they will meet the financial requirement by under  ‘sponsor certifies maintenance’ section on your certificate. This is under ‘Additional data’.

Additional funds will be needed if dependants are applying.


Criminal record certificate 

Some applicants may also need to show a criminal records certificate, if their occupation requires this.


How to apply for the Skilled Worker visa

To apply for a Skilled Worker visa, the applicant will need to submit an online application, together with their supporting documentation, and pay the relevant fee. They will also need to provide their biometric information at the visa processing centre local to them, either overseas or in the UK.

Applications can be made up to 3 months before the day the worker’s intended employment start date in the UK, as stated on the Certificate of Sponsorship.


Skilled worker visa costs 

The applicant will have to pay the visa application fee of between £610 to £1,408 depending on your circumstances and whether the job is on the shortage occupation list, and the Immigration Health Surcharge, for which the main rate is £624 per year of the visa.

The same costs apply to any dependants applying with the main visa applicant.

Application type  Application fee per applicant
Applying from outside the UK
  • up to 3 years – £610 per person
  • more than 3 years – £1,220 per person
Applying from inside the UK (switching, updating or extending)
  • up to 3 years – £704 per person
  • more than 3 years – £1,408 per person
Shortage occupation roles, both in-country and out of country applications   

  • up to 3 years – £464 per person
  • more than 3 years – £928 per person



An additional discount of £55 will be applied if the applicant is a national of one of the following countries:

Austria, Belgium, Croatia, Republic of Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, North Macedonia, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden or Turkey.

The discount will apply only to the main applicant, and not any dependants.

Read our detailed breakdown of the expected costs of the skilled worker route.


Skilled worker visa processing times

COVID restrictions permitting,skilled worker visa application generally take up to 8 weeks if applying from within the UK, or up to 3 weeks if the application is made from outside the UK.

It may be possible to pay for fast-tracked processing, depending on where your application is being processed.


Does the employer have a Skilled Worker sponsor licence?

Employers intending to sponsor EEA nationals (and non-EEA nationals) after the 1 January 2021 who are not currently Home Office approved will need to apply for a Skilled Worker sponsor licence. This is the permission needed for UK employers to recruit overseas migrants to work in the UK in a specific role in an eligible skilled occupation.

If already a licensed sponsor, the organisation will automatically be granted a new licence in the category for which they are approved.

Employers do not need to have a licence to hire someone from the resident labour market with an existing right to work in the UK, such as those holding indefinite leave to remain and British citizens. This also includes EEA nationals who have been granted either settled or pre-settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme.

For non-EEA nationals and employers of non-EEA nationals, who may be accustomed to the previous UK visa process, the new Skilled Worker visa should come as a welcome change – although the fundamentals remain broadly the same, some of the requirements are less onerous when compared with the old style visa under Tier 2 of the points-based system. There is, for example, no cap on the number of skilled worker visas that can be issued, and the Resident Labour Market Test has been abolished.

For EEA nationals coming the UK to work from 1 January 2021, and UK employers accustomed to employing EEA nationals without any restrictions under the old, pre-2021 EU freedom of movement rules, the Skilled Worker visa will be uncharted territory. Employers looking to employ either EEA or non-EEA nationals to undertake skilled work will have to hold a sponsorship licence to be able to sponsor migrant workers, before the individuals can apply for their visa.

Note that EEA nationals already resident in the UK by 11pm 31 December 2020 are required to register under the EU Settlement Scheme before 30 June 2021 to secure either settled or pre-settled status. This will safeguard their lawful status and right to continue living and working in the UK after this date, including working in a skilled role. EEA employees in the UK by 31 December 2020 have until 30 June 2021 to register under the EU settled status scheme.

Certain healthcare professionals, such as qualified doctors, nurses and other health professionals, should apply under the Health & Care visa rather than the Skilled Worker visa.


What are the requirements for a sponsor licence?

To be eligible for a Skilled Worker sponsor licence the organisation must provide evidence that it is a genuine organisation operating lawfully in the UK, and that it is suitable to sponsor skilled migrant workers. In assessing suitability, UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) will consider if:

  • The organisation can offer genuine employment in the UK that meets the required skills threshold of RQF3 or above, and pay a salary of at least £25,600 or the going rate for the job, whichever is the higher.
  • The organisation is capable of meeting the sponsorship duties, where they have in place adequate HR systems and practices, and suitable key personnel, to do so. The key personnel are the people who will operate the sponsor management system (SMS), and be responsible for discharging the duties as a licensed sponsor.
  • The organisation, its key personnel and management are honest, dependable and reliable, where any history of immigration violations or relevant unspent criminal convictions relating to those involved in the day-to-day running of the business, or the key personnel named on the sponsor licence application, could affect its ability to sponsor overseas workers.


Applying for a sponsor licence

To apply for a Skilled Worker sponsorship licence, the organisation will need to:

  • Check it is eligible to apply for a sponsor licence
  • Identify the correct type of licence for its needs (e.g. skilled worker or ICT?)
  • Decide who will manage the ongoing sponsorship process within the organisation and nominate key personnel on the application form
  • Apply online and pay the relevant fee
  • Print out the submission sheet at the end of the application, to be signed and dated by the authorising officer, and submit this to UKVI with the correct supporting documents within the required timeframe


The authorising officer is one of the key personnel that must be named on the licence application. This individual will be a senior and competent individual responsible for the actions of staff and representatives who use the SMS.

The organisation will also need to appoint a key contact, ie; the main point of contact with UKVI, as well as a Level 1 user who will be responsible for all day-to-day management of the icence using the SMS. The organisation can appoint optional Level 2 users once it has been granted a licence, although they will only be granted restricted access to the SMS with fewer permissions than a Level 1 user.

To prove the organisation is genuine and operating lawfully in the UK, UKVI requires verifiable documentary evidence to be collated and submitted. This is in addition to other documentation required to satisfy the specific requirements of the Skilled Worker sponsor licence, which we detail in our licence application guide.

As part of its determination, UKVI may visit the employer’s place of business either before or after the sponsor licence is granted.

If the licence is granted, the sponsor may then issue CoS to prospective employees in order for them to make their Skilled Worker visa application.


Need assistance?

We are specialist UK immigration lawyers, with substantial experience and recognised expertise in advising employers and workers on UK employment sponsorship and the Skilled Worker visa application. For specialist immigration advice, contact us.


Skilled worker visa FAQs 

Is Tier 2 the same as the skilled worker visa?

The Skilled Worker visa has replaced the Tier 2 (General) visa under the UK’s new single points-based immigration system. The Skilled Worker visa will apply to EEA nationals wanting to come to the UK to work after 1 January 2021, and for non-EEA nationals who apply for entry clearance or permission to stay in the UK on or after 1 December 2020. The new visa is broadly similar to the old visa, although there are some changes aimed at making the process more straightforward for both sponsors and applicants alike.

Who is classed as a skilled worker?

A skilled worker is someone who will be working in a job role in the UK that is deemed to have a skill level of RQF3 or above, (equivalent to A level), as set out under Appendix Skilled Occupations to the Immigration Rules (applicable from 1 December 2020). Jobs are classified in terms of their skill level and content, where workers will not need to hold a formal qualification.

Do EU nationals need a visa to work in the UK?

After 1 January 2021, except for Irish citizens, all EU nationals coming to work in the UK will need a visa in advance, unless they are eligible to apply for either settled or pre-settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme. To be eligible under the scheme, an individual will need to show they arrived in the UK prior to 11pm 31 December 2020 and apply by 30 June 2021.

Last updated: 2 December 2020 

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